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Equality - our commitment

Our chairman Nick Bitel gives his thoughts on equality and diversity, and what we're doing to deliver change

23rd January 2020

Why equality needs to be realised across the entire sporting landscape

by Nick Bitel
Chair, Sport England

Diversity in sport is one of the greatest shared challenges we face. Progress has been made, particularly in closing the gender gap for participation. But there is much more still to do.

Up and down the country, sport and physical activity remains skewed towards the white, the better off, and the non-disabled.

At clubs, white non-disabled men dominate coaching. In the workforce, people from ethnic backgrounds are under-represented.

In volunteering men outnumber women by a wide margin. And you’re much more likely to be inactive if you’re from a lower socioeconomic group.

Tackling these inequalities is at the heart of our Towards an Active Nation strategy for 2017-21.

But it’s not just about the participants and volunteers on the ground. Every part of the sporting landscape needs to change. And that includes us, our partners, our staff and those we invest in.

As the then prime minister said in his introduction to the Government’s strategy document Sporting Future, sport is good for us.

The benefits of being physically active – for the individual and society – are well proven. We should aspire to ensure that those benefits are being enjoyed by every sector of our society.

I was appalled to see the latest statistics showing that, out of 650 Board members across the sector, just six are from black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds. That’s worse than any other industry that I know.

But it’s not just at leadership level. We must foster diversity across the sector.

I’m making a personal commitment to ensure we make progress – especially where the most stubborn gaps exist. Not only is it the right thing to do, it also makes great business sense.

Organisations that attract and retain a diverse workforce make better decisions and are more likely to achieve their business goals.

In a perfect world, we wouldn’t need to push for equality. But our insight shows that we live in a world where barriers – both perceived and real – prevent people from all backgrounds joining the industry.

What we’re doing

Progress is being made, and I’m happy that Sport England is leading the ambition to make the sector more representative.

We’ve already achieved several milestones as we move towards equality. In October 2017, we were awarded Investors in Diversity accreditation for the second time and in 2019 for the first time Leaders in Diversity.

The Award places Sport England as one of the better institutions in the country for encouraging an all-encompassing culture of equality, diversity and inclusion.

This is based on a staff survey which asks questions about employees’ daily experiences and measures their grasp of equality issues, such as protected characteristics.

We’re also a Disability Confident Employer – with measures in place to recruit and retain disabled people or those with long term health conditions.

As for our own staff statistics, there are areas where we’re doing well and – of course – those we need to improve. On the positive side, 7% of employees report as LGBT+, which mirrors the national population average of 5-7%.

Furthermore, men and women are largely represented equally overall. However, there is further work to do to attract and retain those from black, Asian and minority ethnic and disability backgrounds.

We’re also nurturing close relationships with organisations that have an emphatic grasp of the groups they represent. For instance, in 2017 we strengthened our ties with Stonewall to tackle the unique challenges of LGBT+ sports participation.

The list doesn’t stop there – and you can look inside the Code for Sports Governance and our own action plan to see a full list of the actions we’re taking to further equality in the workplace. For example, we have five women on our 10-strong board – exceeding the 30% gender target by 6%. At present we have an equal number of men and women on the Board and 30% BAME. We will work hard to ensure that we achieve gender parity in the future. And we’re strongly committed to achieving greater diversity overall, including people from black, Asian and minority ethnic backgrounds and those with a disability.

But we can’t do this alone. Each body needs to take responsibility for achieving a more representative workforce. Every partner should commit to making a difference. That means taking an honest look at your own diversity statistics. Where are the inequalities greatest – and why? Are there issues specific to you, your sport or audience group that throws up challenges? You are unique, and your approach to tackling inequality needs to be based on the characteristics of your organisation.

Delivering change

My determination to address sport’s diversity problem is absolute. The Code is here to provide an advisory action plan – a blueprint, if you like – but we continue to review its effectiveness. It is a living, breathing document. If change doesn’t happen at the speed or scale needed, we’ll consider rolling out specific equality targets that are embedded in the way we fund partners in much the same way that we have for gender diversity.

The Code is not meant to be an exhaustive list of actions that funded bodies should take to engender diversity within their sports and organisations. For instance, although the gender target for boards is set at 30% there really is no reason why organisations should not be aspiring to have gender parity at Board level and throughout their senior management teams.

There is no shortage of goodwill. Every time I meet leaders from across the sector, awareness of the Code is high. But equality is only achieved when people in Boards and beyond understand, embrace and champion diversity.

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